Stacking on the Farm #farmblog

Stacking refers to using space in multiple ways, for multiple purposes. For example, letting your chickens do cleanup in the greenhouse, using the gardens for winter pasture for the pigs, etc. It also refers to using the same space for multiple purposes all at one time. This is where we can get really creative, primarily by mimicking nature.

One of the concepts that seems to be ingrained from commercial agriculture is that you raise cows in a cow barn, chickens in a chicken coop or house, ducks in a duck pen with a duck house and duck pond, geese in a field with a pond and a goose house, etc. There is little sharing of space – each item being in an environment created specifically for mass management of the largest possible numbers of one particular thing in a very small space.

Another erroneous idea that we have picked up from commercial ag is that you must not share space between species, because it encourages the spread of disease. This is in fact, not true. Overcrowding encourages disease. Overuse of antibiotics encourages disease. Feeding on industrial waste encourages disease. Putting pigeons and chickens, or chickens and quail in near proximity does not encourage disease.

Ok, so what do we mean by mimicking nature in how this is done? Nature grows more in less space with no input from man. She’s got something good going on. Instead of trying to rewrite the rules, we out to be simply managing a natural system well. All natural things operate under a single rule that holds, no matter what. If we an abide by that rule, everything gets MUCH simpler!

Provide the conditions that the animal, plant, fungus, fish, etc, naturally thrives in, and they will generally thrive with minimal interference from you.

There is tremendous power in this. It is the key to sustainability on a small polyculture farm. It is the key to financial success. It is the key to being able to have enough hours in the day to get it all done. And it is the key to using space wisely.

Let’s start with ducks. Ducks are good for eggs, meat, feathers, garden cleanup, bug control, and sometimes they make great incubators. Ducks require water. While a child’s swimming pool will do the job, a pond is much better, because it can contain plants that the ducks eat, which reduces your food bill. Duckweed is cheaper than meatbird feed by a long shot.

Once you have a pond, you can also raise crayfish, freshwater shrimp, fish, and aquatic plants for animal feed. A pond will foster some insect growth, which your ducks will also happily gobble, and your fish will eat them too. Your ducks WILL eat some of the young fish, but they won’t eat them all, and you’ll have enough for you and the ducks too.

Duck manure helps the aquatic plants grow, and will even help bottom feeders survive. You’ll have to trap turtles (there’s a market for fresh turtle, by the way), and control some predators, but you can set up a small micro-ecosystem where each element is used for production, where you simply act as a catalyst to encourage it, rather than trying to manage every element yourself.

You can get the benefits of some of this same concept by using greenhouses in conjunction with farming fresh fish or freshwater shrimp. If you bring animals into that as well, and add mushrooms to the mix, you have even more benefit from a small space.

This isn’t meant to tell you all the ways you can do this. It is just meant to get you thinking beyond the simplistic “I’m going to raise chickens so I can have eggs.” type mentality that commercial ag has conditioned us to think within. If you are going to raise chickens, then what else can you do because you now have chickens? Can you also raise worms or Black Soldier Fly larvae for chicken food, which will feed on partially composted chicken litter, and which will produce finished compost for the garden? Can you raise mushrooms in your compost pile, where they will help compost the chicken litter so it is ready for the garden?

In the wild, there is an amazing complicated synergy that is created that lets nature do her wondrous work. If we think about that when we go about setting up to raise animals and crops, we come out with something that reduces the amount of work involved, and increases the range of crops we can produce, in a way that is completely in harmony with nature.

When you are faced with needing a solution, ask yourself how Nature solves that problem in the wild. The answer to that will usually lead you to a simple and effective option that you can implement in one way or another, so that your farm can do something truly miraculous.

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Gardening doesn't have to be that hard! No matter where you live, no matter how difficult your circumstances, you CAN grow a successful garden.

Life from the Garden: Grow Your Own Food Anywhere Practical and low cost options for container gardening, sprouting, small yards, edible landscaping, winter gardening, shady yards, and help for people who are getting started too late. Plenty of tips to simplify, save on work and expense.